Backstage at Madison Square Garden are (l-r):
Dean Roney, vice president of business development,
touring, Solotech; Craig Doubet, FOH engineer;
Marc-Olivier Magnan, tech; Louis-Philippe Maziade,
crew chief/system engineer.
by Clive Young.
In the space of just seven years, Michael Buble has gone from releasing his debut album to touring the world, singlehandedly reviving the sound of stylish Big Band belting in the process. Reaching the arena plateau in North America a few years ago without the aid of hit singles, the Canadian crooner now has one of those, too—“Haven’t Met You Yet”—and is expected to be on the road well into 2011 on the strength of the song and its parent album, Crazy Love.
Undoubtedly, that’s good news for audio provider Solotech and FOH engineer Craig Doubet. “He likes to work, and we’re not complaining,” laughed Doubet, a veteran of the singer’s 18-month 2007-08 jaunt.
One key to Buble’s performances is that the musical arrangements may be for a 14-piece band, but they don’t trade in the polite, tidy sounds that bring to mind 1940s movie musicals. Instead, the performers pack power and Doubet ensures that their resultant music comes across with the same punch as the rock shows that typically fill large arenas.
“[On this tour], Michael evolves from being what people think he is,” said Doubet. “He’s always had a much more pop-leaning edge, so I’m going for a pop style of Big Band. You can hear everything, it’s got some good bottom end, it gets loud when it needs to, but it sounds pretty.”
Helping make that happen is an Avid Venue Profile console at the FOH position, packed with a variety of plug-ins. “I’ve used the Profile ever since it came out; I saw that thing three years ago and said, ‘That’s for me,’” said Doubet. “I use the Drawmer tour bus series, and I have the Focusrite d2/d3 plug-ins, like their original console-style preamp/EQ/compressor stuff. I have the Sonnox Oxford EQ plug in with the GML 8200 EQ option, and I just added the McDSP Channel G and CompressorBank plug-ins, too. The only reverb [plug-in] I use aside from the stock stuff is the TC Electronic PowerCore System 6000 plug-ins—I use the EMT250 [DVR2 Digital Vintage Reverb].”
Plug-ins also play a part in Buble’s vocals; since they’re understandably high in the mix, it’s imperative to make them shine. “For years, he’s used a Shure Beta 87C on a cable,” said Doubet. “That’s his favorite mic, and it’s a good choice for what he likes to do; there’s things that aren’t great about it, but it works. I run that straight into the console then I use the Focusrite series for compressor and a little EQ, the GML for much tighter EQ and the McDSP [DE555] De-esser. Add a Lexicon 480L for reverb and that’s about it. Pretty simple: Make the man sound good, make it big, make him sound like him.”
Good sound starts on stage with clean monitoring; in Buble’s case, Dean Roney, Solotech’s vice president of business development, touring was instrumental in making that happen, as Roney was previously the singer’s production manager for five years. “[One tour], we used a Meyer system in Europe and decided that it helped a lot with the monitors, so we decided to stay with the system,” said Roney. “Up until that time, we had quite a few monitor issues. I brought Solotech in [which had Meyer systems], and we were real happy. Something that Solotech takes a lot of pride in is being on top of the technological curve as much as possible. We’re particularly a Meyer house, with quite a few, 700-ish, Meyer boxes in inventory. We also carry some L-Acoustics V-Dosc, and we’re in the process right now of purchasing their K1 system as well.”
These days, Buble’s monitor system is based around a mixture of loudspeakers—with a dozen Meyer M’elodie boxes and eight MJF-212s covering the deck—and personal monitor systems, with everyone onstage hearing himself via a variety of Sennheiser ew300 IEMs via G2 wireless systems and Shure P6HW receivers.
Doubet explained, “Craig Brittan, our monitor engineer, runs a DiGiCo SD7 because he needs lots and lots of outputs. The horn section is on Aviom A-16 systems, and it works great for them. Craig gives them stems, so they can mix themselves and get what they need out of that. It leaves his hands free to deal with the five other people and Michael. It’s a total of 14 on stage so Craig has his hands full up there!”
While the musicians onstage can hear themselves, it’s just as important that the audience gets the benefit of the same kind of clarity. In order to make that happen, Solotech has provided the production with a suitably large Meyer Sound PA, based around 32 Milo line-array elements, 24 Mica boxes, a dozen 700-HP, four M3D subwoofers, eight M’elodies, two UPQs, and a pair of CQ-2s. All that is corralled with Meyer’s Galileo software. “I’m a Meyer guy for many years now,” said Doubet. “We have a nice, big rig; it’s put together pretty well—I SIM the PA every day and make it work for the room.”
Fine-tuning for each venue is necessary, as Doubet pulls back on the volume just as much as he pushes it. “It’s a very dynamic show, and I think that’s what people respond to,” he said. “We’ll go from ballads that are in the mid-80s, to the big songs which are tickling 106-108 dB at front of house. I’d much rather have people excited about when it gets loud instead of it being loud all the time.”
A dynamic show is probably inevitable, however, given the ebb and flow of the set list and the various song arrangements. “The opening is Michael’s cover of ‘Cry Me A River,’ which has an almost ‘James Bond’-style arrangement,” said Doubet. “It’s huge, with quite a lot going on—a vibrato guitar like a James Bond theme, plus the horn section and strings. It’s a big number that’s fun to do—but it’s right off the bat, top of the night, so it’s a little nerve-wracking to make sure you get that one right. But then we go straight into a classic Big Band song, ‘All Of Me,’ and that’s fun, because you take it way down—it’s still got to be exciting, but it’s a whole different idea of that. So the whole show goes that way, changing up constantly, and it keeps me on my toes.”
That kind of volume variety likewise keeps Buble’s growing fan base on its feet throughout the night, too. “I’m not sure how to describe the audience,” laughed Doubet. “It’s very much female, obviously, but we get a lot of men and guys who come with dates who end up really enjoying themselves. Now Michael has a pop single, too, so we’re getting the younger girls—and the middle-aged girls, too! Actually, one show there was a woman who looked like my grandmother dancing and banging around and singing along the entire show. I laughed, and I enjoyed it so much; it was a beautiful day.”